Wonka: Release Date, Cast, And More

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Prequels to classic stories are nothing new in Hollywood, but there has been a noticeable uptick of late in the number of movies about iconic characters whose origins most people, frankly, never really wondered about. The latest example? Warner Bros.' "Wonka," a musical fantasy that explores what the enigmatic chocolatier Willy Wonka got up to before he opened his world-famous candy factory and terrorized his underage guests (sans the kindly Charlie Bucket, of course) in Roald Dahl's beloved 1964 children's novel "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

No stranger to the big screen, Wonka was famously brought to life by Gene Wilder in 1971's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," in what many feel is the definitive portrayal of Dahl's chaotic good candy-maker. And while Johnny Depp put his own stamp on the role three decades later in 2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," Wilder's performance continues to cast a long shadow over the character. Can "Wonka" escape it by winding the clock back with Timothée Chalamet donning the chocolate hat?

Wonka release date and where you can watch it

"Wonka" began principal photography in the U.K. in September 2021 and is scheduled to open in theaters on December 15, 2023. The film will premiere exclusively on the big screen before making its way to Warner Bros. Discovery's new combined streaming service in the months that follow. WB infamously used a hybrid release approach for all of its movies in 2021 in response to the pandemic, but has since abandoned that method and has no plans to return to the strategy in the foreseeable future.

At the time of writing, "Wonka" is the only film slated to go into wide release on December 15, 2023. However, it will face some fierce competition five days later when both "The Color Purple" (a film adaptation of the stage musical based on Alice Walker's classic novel) and the sequel to "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" make their way into theaters. "Wonka" will also have to fend off fellow WBD tentpole, "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom," at the box office later that month, starting on December 25.

What is Wonka about?

The specifics of the "Wonka" plot are under-wraps for the time being, though the general idea is the film will shed some light on what inspired the young Willy Wonka to enter the chocolate-making business full-time. 2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" invented a backstory for the Wonka character that wasn't in Roald Dahl's source material, revealing that his father was a strict dentist who despised candy and forbade his son from eating it, much less churning out countless sweets and treats for a living. However, the expectation is "Wonka" will take things in a very different direction.

Honestly, there's not a lot to Wonka in either Dahl's source material or its previous live-action adaptations, other than he's eccentric and more than a little sadistic (that and he's gotta be illegally exploiting the Oompa Loompas somehow, right?), but ultimately means well enough ... ish. "Wonka" producer David Heyman has acknowledged the challenges of fleshing out the character without Dahl early on in pre-production, adding:

"But I think there's a lot in his character that suggests who he is and also where he might come from or what his childhood or his middle age might have been like. So we're exploring that. [...]"

Wonka cast

Timothée Chalamet is starring in "Wonka" as the titular candyman (er, not that one) opposite a cast that includes Sally Hawkins ("The Shape of Water") as Wonka's mother and Paterson Joseph ("Æon Flux") as Arthur Slugworth. Other co-stars include Oscar winner Olivia Colman ("The Favourite"), Keegan-Michael Key ("Schmigadoon!"), Natasha Rothwell ("Insecure"), Matt Lucas ("Doctor Who"), Jim Carter ("Downton Abbey"), Simon Farnaby ("Ghosts"), and Mr. Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson.

Where Gene Wilder was known for his comedic roles and Johnny Depp has long made a living out of playing peculiar outsiders, Chalamet has mostly stuck to portraying sensitive and, more often than not, soft-spoken young men in films as varied as "Call Me By Your Name," "Little Women," and "Dune." He recently mixed things up a bit with his role as an outspoken student revolutionary in "The French Dispatch," giving him a chance to flex his comedy muscles (along with the new muscles he definitely has) and offering a small taste of what we might expect from Chalamet as a singing, dancing chocolatier who shares his fashion sen with Gonzo the Great. "Wonka" will also put the actor's musical chops to the test, calling upon him to perform in no less than seven musical numbers (via Vogue).

Wonka director, writers, and more

As stacked as the "Wonka" cast is with talented character actors, it's "Paddington 1 & 2" director Paul King's involvement that's really preventing everyone from immediately writing this one off as a cynical cash-grab. The hope is King, who co-penned "Wonka" with his "Paddington 2" co-writer Simon Farnaby, can work his magic on the weird, whimsical world of Dahl the same way he did on Michael Bond's marmalade-loving bear and his adopted family.

It also helps that King has surrounded himself with a skilled crew on "Wonka" that includes director of photography Seamus McGarvey, a frequent Joe Wright collaborator who proved he knows how to make a great-looking musical extravaganza with "The Greatest Showman." Elsewhere, Neil Hannon ("Amélie," "Holy Motors") is writing the movie's original songs, with Christopher Nolan's longtime production designer Nathan Crowley and "Paddington 1 & 2" costume designer Lindy Hemming doing their own part to bring King's vision to (hopefully, bright and buoyant) life.

Wonka CinemaCon trailer description

/Film got a sneak peek at some "Wonka" footage at CinemaCon 2022. Here's a rundown of our general impressions of the trailer footage:

The sneak peek also included our first look at Keegan Michael Key and Sally Hawkins, the former playing a cop who tries Wonka chocolate and loves it, while Hawkins' character offers one of several inspiring, wonder-filled one-liners in the promo, saying, "Every good thing in this world started with a dream."

This younger version of Wonka seems to be less well-established and also a bit of a rascal. When he's not trying to convince townsfolk that his chocolate is magically delicious, he's hiding in a hay truck and dodging policeman who chase him down a sewer. At the end of the promotional reel, he enlists a young girl's help on a world-changing mission, and opens a chocolate bar to reveal a glimmer of gold. The camera captures a reimagined golden note within the bar's wrapper, with a message written on it: "It's not the chocolate that matters, it's the people you share it with."